COVID19 has already impacted all of us in a big way, and I am sure it will become worse before it gets better. Lots of lives will get uprooted, and we will witness the loss of life and money at a scale that most of us have only read of in history books. However, as Winston Churchill said — “Never let a good crisis go to waste”. I have been thinking about the silver lining by COVID19 for tech entrepreneurs for the past couple of weeks. Of course, there cannot be simple answers to this question, but hopefully, my questions would inspire some entrepreneurs and provoke deeper thought. While unfortunately a lot would be lost in the next few weeks, black swan events like this will cause a long term behaviour change and “new normal” will emerge in some spaces, which will create opportunities for entrepreneurs to create and capture value.
What is common between GM, GE, Disney, FedEx, Electronic Arts, HP, Microsoft, Adobe, Uber, Stripe, Airbnb, Whatsapp, Venmo, Groupon, Slack? All these companies were started in depressions or right after. The Chinese symbol for “Crisis” is a combination of symbols of “Danger” and “Opportunity”
As I have been thinking about it, I would divide the opportunities into following categories:
- Entertainment / Social:
We should see tailwinds and opportunities in Online Entertainment (OTTs). Consumers would not be going to cinema halls and concerts for some time. They have more time to watch videos, movies and TV shows at home. I am told the engagement time of a lot of OTTs are up 20–50% in India during the lockdown.
Will movies start getting launched on aggregators like Netflix and Hotstar? But movie producers do not get to keep the upside of the product then. Would we see movies being published on platforms like YouTube? Will new platforms and licensing models emerge? How would shared movie watching experience be replicated online? Would something like Netflix Party be an important feature of the platform, or be the hook to create a platform independently. Worth building on top of the theme.
Online gaming is getting a big boost as well. As kids can no longer play outside, a lot of the physical playtime is shifting to virtual playtime. Usage on some gaming apps has surged 40% during the lockdown. I am more bullish on “participatory” or “social” games because they are always new and fresh compared to static games. This might be the demonetisation moment for the Gaming industry in India.
Like movie theatres, gyms will be shut for a long time too. There has been a surge in online fitness classes and meditation & therapy apps. Again, how do you make these experiences more social and engaging?
In fact, counter-intuitively, even clinics and hospital revenue and utilisation have reduced significantly because elective healthcare has been postponed and people are afraid going to a clinic/hospital where there could be a high chance of viral infection. People would prefer online doctor consultation over going to the clinic/hospital. Accordingly, we should see a boost in teleconsultation and telemedicine.
One effect of any stressful experience is that insurance penetration increases because people start visualising the 5-sigma events more clearly then. In the mid and long term, I would expect health insurance products to gain more traction.
People will be more scared of their health and infections. Will short term increase in demand for products like masks, sanitizers, immunity products, nutraceuticals last for longer? Will states start allocating a pandemic budget as part of the defence budget?
3. Education / Work:
Consumers have tested the efficacy of learning online during the lockdown and this should continue even post lockdown. Online education should see a huge boost. This holds true both for curricular courses like UPSC, IIT-JEE, CAT, CBSE XII, etc preparation but also for extra-curricular courses like Guitar, Painting, etc.
Unfortunately, a side effect of the economic shutdown would be layoffs. Many skills that made people employable might not be as valuable. For example — there is a case to be made that we perhaps would not need as many retail salesmen or waiters for a long time. People would need to reskill and upskill themselves to find new jobs and a shift in job pattern would happen. Maybe the demand for healthcare workers would increase, and so people need to be skilled for those roles. These might lead to more usage of upskilling platforms for grey/blue-collar jobs.
Lots of schools have come online because you cannot conduct offline classes. Large tech companies have high-quality products for schools. So I am not sure if there is a greenfield opportunity here, but maybe I am wrong. A lot of teachers are using technology to this extent for the first time. Once schools restart, will a lot of class interactions and communication remain online? How do you create online classes that match the offline class experience?
We are already seeing a surge in remote work tools, and Zoom saw a massive increase in adoption in businesses across the world. Needless to say, once people start working from home more, the difference between a remote worker and at-office worker would not be very high. For industries where it’s doable, we should shift to remote work. What new hiring, onboarding, payroll and management tools can be created for remote workers?
A lot of work conferences will move online. After having attended so many conferences over the past year, I think online conferences can be a 10x improvement from offline conferences.
The most impacted offline sectors in the market are Supermarkets, Restaurants and Traditional Retail. For each of these spaces, we could see new opportunities because, for the first time in many years, we will have assets that are unutilised and partners willing to work with tech companies. Many small and large enterprises have been deeply impacted, and new companies could be created to serve these companies or customers of these companies better.
Grocery delivery has seen a big peak in demand during lockdown already, and it should continue because many people would prefer not to go out to supermarkets to buy because of fear and in search of convenience. Kirana stores will be digitised further.
For restaurants, we should see innovative cloud kitchen models, or enabling restaurants to be more scalable by working with virtual kitchens. Restaurants are badly hurt and would continue to be bleeding for some time. We are already seeing their eagerness to come to all delivery platforms to ensure they have as much visibility as possible but this would not be enough. As most restaurants are not optimized for delivery, what changes will we see?
For fashion retail, live streaming commerce models which enable retailers to showcase and present their products on a larger commerce destination could be viable now. Amazon Live is getting traction in the US where brands are adopting the channel to engage with customers. What other tools will be created to help small merchants engage their customers outside their stores? As video content gets more and more adoption, can you create search engines for video?
I am sure there are many more, and I will keep updating the list based on feedback from entrepreneurs.
Thanks to Nilay Arora, Suvir Sujan and Aniket Lila for the discussion & inspiration. Hope it helps entrepreneurs thinking through different approaches and provides a framework to structure their thoughts better. Please reach out to me if you are building on any of the spaces outlined above or you have thoughts on what other opportunities would be created.
Hope we all come out of it safely. Take care.